Being a single parent at school meetings is mostly manageable. In the case of a class meeting, you walk into the classroom, find your child’s desk and if he/she is still in the Foundation Phase (Grade 1-3), you attempt to squeeze yourself into the miniature desk bench combination without cursing out loud or crying actual tears as you bang the really sensitive spot just above your kneecap on the side of the desk. This is common in non-contortionist parents. Or parents taller than a nine-year old. Once you have successfully resisted the need to yank the leg of your jeans up and thus exposing most of your unshaven leg to check for swelling and bruising, you listen intently to what the teacher is saying about school procedures and disciplinary actions, whilst skilfully avoiding the circulating roster of ‘Teacher’s Help’ commitments. I don’t feel I should have to explain that I nearly killed myself in traffic from work just to get to the meeting on time, and that although my father was kind enough to pick the kids up from school and aftercare in order for me to attend, its unlikely his generosity extends to shopping for missing supper ingredients and then cooking and serving it and doing homework…. Therefore, it is less likely I will be able to find the time to help out with swimming lessons, watch a class when the teacher is away or sorting the recycling on a weekly basis. Generally these types of meetings are attended by only one parent anyway, so as a single parent, they’re easy enough to get through.
One on one parent teacher meetings is an absolute breeze. Mostly the teacher already knows the situation, and therefore these are a good opportunity to explain away unfinished homework, unfilled Ritalin prescriptions and less than acceptable classroom behaviour with an unravelling less than ideal home situation. Then race home and ensure that you child has everything complete and packed for the next day, lest he/she gets kept in after school for a quiet little Q&A session with the school counsellor (this must be avoided at all costs to prevent further miscommunications..!)
Recently though, after having moved from one end of the province to another, and therefore changed my sons schools, I had to endure Parents of New Pupils Orientation Evening. X2. One high school. One primary school. Both as awful as each other. Here’s the scenario. Parents of new pupils gather in a hall. Some are there, because they, like me, have recently moved to the area. Others have lived in the area their entire lives, and have children starting Grade 1 or Grade 8. Further to these groups, are the ones whose third or fourth child is starting Grade 1 or Grade 8, and like to be seen at school as often as possible, with the added bonus of free wine. The first set of parents are unlikely to know many people if any, but as a couple, they have each other to pretend to talk to. The second set, may know a few people, from probably having gone to school with them themselves, this gathering then doubles as a mini-reunion, and instant play-date arranging opportunity. Bonus. The third set, are the most terrifying. They know exactly how everything runs, who’s who and who’s new, are on every school committee and on first name terms with every single staff member. They sit together at every function and even socialise together on weekends. Eventually their children will marry, and they will become one giant family. As a (painfully shy) single parent who falls into Category 1, this is a Hall of Horror. There are just not enough people to be inconspicuous and not look like a lone lonely loner, clutching a glass of wine and desperately willing someone, absolutely anyone to talk to you. In such instances I will even endure the listing of someone’s child’s previous years Grade 2 Maths test results without glazing over. But to stand there pretending to read the list of prefects dating back from 1978 on a giant wooden board hanging above the stage for lack of anything else to do and want of doing something is just torture. To top off this endless evening of social suicide, I got saved and then mortifyingly stranded again in an unfortunate case of mistaken identity. A loud rather crass woman came over thinking she had read my label (yes, gotta love standing alone with a big white sticker labelling your child’s Grade and teacher stuck to your right breast) as being the same as hers. She promptly invited me to a class party she was organising, then peering awkwardly closely at my breast, realised her mistake, laughed slightly hysterically, and then said ‘ Sorry you cant come’…and walked away. After laughing a bit myself (purely on the outside) whilst surreptitiously glancing around to make sure not a soul had heard that particular (and only) exchange of the evening, I snuck home. Next time Ill bribe a friend to role play as an attentive other half. On occasion, fierce independence can backfire. Lesson learnt.